Sonia Sumitra Thakar
The penultimate day of Navaratri, the nine holy days celebrated by Hindus leading up to the festival of Dussehra, is dedicated to the Goddess Mahagauri. The name Mahagauri literally means ‘extremely fair’ and this manifestation of Ma Durga is depicted as one with extraordinary radiant beauty.
With an effulgent face, this dazzling avatar clad in a white saree begets the name Shwetambaradhara. And, as she sits atop a white-coloured bull, she is also known as Vrisharudha. She is represented as having four arms—she carries a trident (trishul) and drum (damaru) in her upper hands and holds her lower hands in Abhaya and Varada Mudras to bless her devotees. Her pristine white complexion is often compared to the beauty of the moon, a conch or a jasmine flower.
Stories of Devi Mahagauri
There are several stories around this incarnation of the goddess and how she got her brilliant complexion. Amongst these, the two most popular ones are below.
Legend has it that as Mother Parvati, underwent unparalleled penance to attain Lord Shiva as her consort in her new incarnation. While undergoing this severe penance, her skin was exposed to harsh weather conditions, dirt, dust, insects and dry leaves. As a result of this, her skin became very dark. When Lord Shiva, pleased by her austerity, finally agreed to marry her, he asked the Ganges that flow through his matted locks to shower down on her. Thus, was revealed her true radiant and brilliant self.
According to another legend, when Mother Parvati took the terrifying form of Kalratri to fight the demons, her skin turned dark. Her consort Lord Shiva playfully teased her by calling her Kali (the dark one). She took this as an insult and prayed to Lord Brahma to come to her aid. He blessed her and asked her to take a dip in Lake Mansarovar in the Himalayas. As she stepped into the holy water, the dark skin separated from her body and took the form of a female – Kaushiki. It is believed that the goddess Kaushiki was the one who slayed the demons Shumba and Nishumba (who were blessed by Brahma with the boon that they could not be killed by man, god, demon, or deity). When Ma Parvati emerged from the lake, she had assumed the effulgent and beautiful form of Devi Mahagauri.
Worship of Devi Mahagauri: Significance
While these stories talk about the fair skin of the goddess, her radiant complexion is actually a metaphor for her purity, wisdom, and valour. Devi Mahgauri is a symbol of peace and prosperity, abundance, and knowledge. She bestows calm and fearlessness on those who worship her. As the one who is fully illuminated, she slays our ego and exposes us to the divine knowledge that expels the darkness of ignorance and annihilates negative energies.
The goddess is worshipped in this manifestation by unmarried girls to get a suitable partner and by married women to enjoy a harmonious and happy married life. Devi Mahagauri is the one who takes away our pain and sorrows and is the provider of good health, wealth and fertility.
On the eighth day of Navaratri, many Hindus observe Kanjak or Kanya Pooja. Nine (or more) young girls are invited home and indulged with delicacies, sweets and gifts. This is said to please the Navadurga and earns bountiful blessings for the worshipper.
Coconuts are the popular food item offered to Devi Mahagauri as bhog on Ashtmi. Home-made halwa lavishly garnished with dry fruits can also be offered to the goddess on this day.
Worshipping the consort of Mahadeva as Mahagauri begets devotees the blessings and bliss of both Shiva and Shakti. On the ninth day of Navaratri, Ma Durga takes the powerful form of Devi Siddhidaatri. You can read more about this avatar of the Navadurga here.